The Tradition of a Kiwi Beach Visit

It is 9am.  Jess’ dad decides the swells should be perfect for surfing. He is tanned, in shape, with warm eyes, a healthy face, and a baseball cap with a light ponytail sticking out from under it.

Kiwi tradition dictates lots of time spent in, on, or around the water, and he fits the bill. We pack into the car, windows littered with surfing stickers, and head off.

Paddleboarder
Paddleboarder taking on the waves.

The area is all windy roads hugged by impenetratable greenery – bush, palms, grass that goes up into the hills with the occasional toi-toi feather duster clumps of grass adding a light touch.

We arrive at Te Arai.

1. Climb the dune to watch how the waves break

Te Arai is a surf beach, and I follow Jess up the dune to where her dad is watching the waves break. My first New Zealand sand is just off-white and almost powdery fine between my toes. Heaven. There’s maybe 30 people in sight.

Comings-and-goings-on-Forestry,-New-Zealand-Kat-Nienartowicz,-Anywhere-Bound
Forestry – a perfect beach with almost no one around…

But the swell’s not breaking right.

We move on to Forestry, another beach just behind the bay cliff to the south. We climb the dune to watch how the waves break. There’s even less people here but is is decided that the surf is better. We’re staying.

2. Explore & Enjoy

We set up chairs and blankets and head in our separate directions.

Jess’s dad goes off to find surf. On any given day, depending on the water, Kiwis will surf, kayak, paddleboard – anything to get out on the water.

We ladies walk far along the beach and beachcomb the sand for seashells while waching oystercatchers with their long red beaks tap away at the shells.

An oyster catcher with its pronounced red beak
An oyster catcher with its pronounced red beak

3. Picnic

We sit, chat, and eat corned beef sandwiches, snacking inbetween with some carrots and chips.

It is warm in the sun but the moment that wind blows I zip up and feel ridiculous. We flip through magazines and make conversation with friends that stop by.

I can feel the heat of the sun of my face, the slight wind cooling my cheeks. There’s really no sound other than the waves lappping on the shore and breaking, and sometimes they crack so hard I look up expecting to see a broken surfboard.

Kat at Forestry Beach, watching the surfers
Watching the surfers, feeling the wind

The Last Untouched Te Arai

After a short nap, and meeting the rest of the family, it was decided that we were popping off to Te Arai late morning – the swells were going to be perfect.

Te Arai is on the east coast about an hour north of Auckland and, as the whole area, is known for its surfing.

Looking out at the swell
Looking out at the swell

We walked up a small white sand dune where Jess’s father is staring out onto the water. “I’ve been coming here for 40 years,” he said.

“Has anything changed?”

“Not really, just more people.”

“Well, it’s good they haven’t developed it at all.” I comment.

But there’s plans to, apparently. Te Arai is the last untouched ocean beach area in the region – it is home to endangered birds, threatened geckos, and a variety of fauna and flora – but there are currently plans in place to scrap the current zoning plans for development of a golf course, housing, restaurants.  It is largely protested, so for now, Kiwis can enjoy the surfing, kayaking, and beachcombing they so love the beach for.

An oyster catcher - just one of the species found at Te Arai
An oyster catcher – just one of the species found at Te Arai

But the swell is crashing too hard, with nowhere to turn out. This will not be the beach. We head just down the road to Forestry. There’s even less people here; clumps of about 4 or 5 hang out prepping their boards, about fifteen dot the waves. There’s more roll out here, and after another five minutes of contemplation, we decide to stay.

Waiting for the perfect wave
Waiting for the perfect wave

First Impressions: New Zealand

It smells sweet and warm. It is 5:30am and only 15°C but it is humid enough that the wind is pleasant.

It’s too dark to see how green it is.

The sun slowly comes up and my first real view is Orewa Beach with the tide out 100 meters, with giant pohutukawa “Christmas” trees, and those ragged Railey-esque cliffs jutting out to form bays at every corner.

Two hour nap. It feels so good to be horizontal.

Next Adventure: New Zealand

New year, new continent, and this year, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take in two weeks  in New Zealand to visit one of my best girlfriends.

Because I’ll be based out of Auckland and don’t want to rush through the whole country, I’ll be sticking to the north island. I’ve barely touched on what I want to do, but here’s a taster of what I’m definitely going to need to check out:

Auckland

Auckland will be my landing and departure city, and it looks like I could easily spend my whole trip there.  The country’s biggest city seems to be all culinary culture, adrenaline activities,  islands  and volcanoes. And you can’t go wrong staying in a city where the beach is right outside your door almost anywhere you are.

Auckland
Auckland – by picale

Bay of Islands

I have no words other than to ‘ooh’ and ‘aaah’ at the photographs of the Bay of Islands. A money grab, sure, but the waters! And the beaches! And look at those views!

bay of islands
Coromandel to Fletcher’s Bay – by Graeme Churchard

Waitomo

Waitomo has giant caves you can tube, raft, or boat through, so deep and dark they’re alight with glow worms.  Apparently you can go so deep that you wade through crevasses barely wide enough to step through with water up to your chest…but I’m not promising anything.

Black Water Rafting - wiredforlego
Black Water Rafting – by wiredforlego

Hobbiton

Actually situated in Matamata, all that’s left of Hobbiton is a few doorless structures in the hills (at least in the photos – maybe there’ll be doors when I visit?). Nonetheless, a trip to New Zealand wouldn’t be complete without a visit to The Shire for a Hobbit fan.

Hobbiton
Hobbiton – by Tom Hall

Wellington

Windy Welly is New Zealand’s capital right on the south coast of the north island. It’ll be the furthest south I get when I take a quick trip down to stroll the cities, take in some cafes, and visit what’s apparently a fantastic museum.

Night Boat to Wellington
Night Boat to Wellington – by Lisa.Ng

And that’s just the beginning! Stay tuned!

Cape Cross Seal Colony: If it smells like a dairy farm and sounds like a goat…

I expected it to be bad, but it was more intense than that. And louder. They sound like goats, but worse. And the smell? Ugh.

Cape Cross: The Current Colony

One of our stops on the Namibian coast was Cape Cross, named for the cross erected there in 1486 in honour of King John I of Portugal by Diego Cao, the first European to set foot there.

But what people really come to see at Cape Cross is the massive breeding colony of Cape Fur Seals. There are currently almost 100,000 seals at Cape Cross, making it one of the largest (and smelliest) colonies in all of Southern Africa.

Mass of cape fur seals, Cape Cross, Namibia - AnywhereBound
Just one sepia toned monochromatic mass.

The Breeding Cycle

The colony is made up of only adult females and their pups; the bulls only come around for the mating season. When the females are about three years old, they are mature enough to breed, which they do shortly after the arrival of the males.

The bulls will mate with each cow in their harem (5-25 females), and she will quickly become pregnant. The ova will start development after three months (ultimately giving those few months to rest). Most pups are born between late November and early December within a 34 day period . The bulls, on land at the time, will mate with each cow within a week of her giving birth.

Seal cub suckling, Cape Cross, Namibia - AnywhereBound
A cow and her cub. This cub must’ve been just under a year old.

Did you catch that timeline? The female gives birth in November, gets pregnant in December, the ova starts to develop in March, and then she gives birth again in November, ultimately making her pregnant almost all year for the rest of her life.

Risks and Dangers

(WARNING: If you don’t like the sight of dead animals, skip the photo below).

The Cape Cross seals are vulnerable to two main predators, the black-backed jackal and the brown hyena, who stalk at night. However, the mortality rate is partially high because of “trampling by other seals, drowning and abandonment.”

Alternatively, the mom and pup might be separated during a stampede, or she may be killed while at sea.  We couldn’t fathom all the little skulls lying around the area, until we realized that they were of the newborn pups, likely picked clean by the vulturous seagulls that were around.

Seagull picking at dead baby seal, Cape Cross, Namibia - AnywhereBound
So sad. So gross.

Life at Cape Cross

The seals at Cape Cross have the whole coastline there to themselves. Most lie around on the sand, sunbathing, quite a few right underneath the boardwalk designed to let visitors get a better view. Others sit on the rocks closer to the water, where they’re constantly drenched by the waves and more in the midst of the action, fighting and playing.

Seal establishing dominance
Seal establishing dominance

The third group is largely devoted to the water, frolicking in the giant waves. Besides sharks, which there aren’t many of here, the seals don’t have much to fear in the water, and are most agile and most protected there.

When the seals get out of the water, which is an art form in itself, they are immediately honking, calling, crying, looking for their mother, their group. It is a constant noise. Some of the seals sound like goats, others like fat men coughing up their lungs, others like menacing lions snarling and growling, all in a cacophony of horror movie sounds.

Cute little seal cub
Cute little seal cub resting under the walkway

Why you should visit

Visiting the colony at Cape Cross really presented an opportunity to watch the seals in their environment. Because of the sheer number of them, it was unlike anything possible at the zoo; here we were able to see their natural behaviours, the natural parts of the life cycle, play out.

It was actually remarkable to focus on a small group and watch them interact or ignore one another, decide to feed, or decide to walk away. We could’ve stayed there and watched them for hours.

Well, once we got over the smell.

Cape Cross Seal Colony, Namibia - AnywhereBound
Thousands and thousands of seals lining the coast